08 January 2010

Hammocks Hike

Date: 29 December 2009
Who hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Weather: sunny and clear

Still on Winter Break, we talked Hubby into taking a long lunch one day and hiking to the hammocks with us.

This hike involved tackling Godhilla, which I’ve covered before. We headed up the hill and I actually found it a bit easier than it’s been before. I was a bit surprised, given that I haven’t really been exercising as regularly as I would like, but welcomed it all the same. We have three stopping points on Godhilla, each at relatively flat sections of the trail and I made each of them without much stress. The recent rains made the trail a bit more treacherous – small pebbles and dirt had run down the trail creating a slippery trail, so you couldn't let your mind wander from your footing!

At the top of the hill, the Things immediately rushed down the cutoff trail to get to the hammocks first. This part of the trail cuts across the hill, just below the crest, to meet up with the portion of the trail that returns downhill from the ridge. You walk down that trail to a trail that cuts back across the hill face to the spur that goes down to the hammocks.

The view from the hammocks is outstanding -- have a look the top picture on this post, which was our view.

There are two hammocks strung up in an oak that clings to the edge of the trail and overhangs the slope. You climb up into the tree a bit to get into the hammock, which means that you’re hanging higher in the air than you’d expect. The Things really like to hang out in the hammocks, though there is always much moving around, climbing in, and climbing out of the hammocks which makes Hubby and me nervous. The drop to the ground below is steep and there’s not much to stop one from rolling down the slope except sharp sticks and pointy prickly pear cactus. Thing 1 was quicker to the destination than Thing 2, so he got the primo hammock. This did not go well with Thing 2, who insisted on being allowed into the best seat.

Soon it was time to go home and we navigated the steep slope back to the road by Cat Harbor. This hill is actually worse than Godhilla -- that's why we almost always go down this way instead of up! The tide was very low – probably a spring low tide as we were right around the full moon. I stopped for a bit to look at birds (killdeer, a willet, and two whimbrels) while the boys continued on to home.

03 January 2010

Parson's Landing

Date: 27 December 2009
Who Hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Route: Emerald Bay to Parson's Landing and back
Estimated Distance: 2.4 miles
Weather: cool, cloudy
A few days after Christmas, when the Things' complaints about the newly-received Wii (when can we play? why won't this work? I can't do this!) had resulted in maximal levels of irritation in both parental units, we packed them into the truck and headed off to the west end of the island.
The West End Road is a trip in and of itself: barely 1.5 cars wide and full of hairpin turns, one edge butts against the rocky face of the island, the other edge drops to the ocean below. When you meet another vehicle on the road, you have either wait at a place that is wide enough for the other car to pass or you back up to a place that is wide enough for the two cars to pass. The alternative to patience and cooperation is scraped paint (if you get to close to the island side of the road) or a tumble into the ocean (if you get too close to the seaward edge). Meeting the Catalina Flying Boat panel truck is particularly terrifying.
Given that this was a Sunday, we had no vehicular traffic, though we ran into a few bikers, hikers, and runners. But no worries there -- plenty of room for a car and single-file people on the road!
We parked at the bar gate that blocks the West End Road just beyond Emerald Bay, where there is a large Boy Scout Camp and an environmental education facility called Mountain Sea Adventures.
We then hiked the length of the road beyond the gate to Parson's Landing, a popular camping locale.
The road is more or less flat and is bordered by lemonadeberry and toyon bushes. The lemonadeberry bushes were just setting fruit and the toyon bushes were thick with red berries. And they were all chock full of yellow-rumped warblers.
A trail branches away from the road and provides a shortcut to the beach, so we took this trail. It was surrounded on all sides by fennel, an invasive introduced plant on the island.

I have included a photograph -- all the gray stalks sticking up are fennel plants. In less than a half-mile, we were at Parson's Landing.
We were the only people on the beach this day, not a surprise given the gray weather.
The waves didn't seem too bad and Thing 1 was having fun running out to large rocks when the waves were out and then standing there as the waves swirled in and surrounded his rock. Thing 2 was a bit more timid about joining him, but finally worked up the nerve and ran out to the rock fortress too. Getting braver, Thing 1 ran out to a farther rock, but just then a large swell came onshore and the waves were bigger than he'd expected. Both Things dashed from their rocks to the safety of higher ground... The waves produced by these larger swells were infrequent (about 15 minute intervals), but impressive.

We walked along the beach and then hiked back along another road. This intersected the Trans-Catalina Trail at a couple of locations. At this point on the trail, we were only about 6.5 miles from the trailhead at Starlight Beach. An industrious fox had climbed to the top of one trail sign to mark its territory.
We hiked back to the truck along the road and then braved the West End Road home... and the boys talked about playing Wii for most of the trip.
Other birds seen/heard: Catalina quail, Northern ravens, Northern mockingbirds, House finches

Herman's Trail

Date: 20 December 2009
Who Hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Route: Herman's Trail & Middle Ranch Road
Time: 1030 to 1330
Estimated Distance: ~5.3 miles
Weather: sunny, mid 70s

The consequence of waiting three weeks to write a blog post about a hike is that I can't remember much about it. I flunk one of the basic rules that every researcher learns: write it all down because you won't remember it later... even though you're SURE you will...

Anyway, the Things are on Winter Break from school, so we decided to get in a couple of family hikes. We have been eyeing this hike for a while. Herman's trail leaves from and returns to Middle Ranch Road, so we decided to hike it as a loop. We drove to the far trailhead and parked, then walked back on Middle Ranch Road to the trailhead that is nearer to Middle Ranch. The road here is nice and flat and we thought it would be a good warm up for the boys (and for us) before we hit the trail proper -- which in good Catalina fashion, heads straight up the freakin' hill.

I don't know who Herman is. It's not a name I have encountered in my reading about the island. If any of my (three) readers know, please send in a comment!

The walk along the road was quite nice, with lots of animal tracks to see (bison, deer, fox, and squirrel) and some acorn woodpecker granaries along the way. Granaries were in a couple of trees, including a large black locust planted just along Middle Ranch Road. We saw plenty of finches, ravens, some warblers, and heard a blue-gray gnatcatcher. We also were lucky enough to see the first California poppy that I've seen this year. This species is not native to the island, but they are pretty flowers and in years with enough rain, they line Middle Ranch Road through Middle Canyon.

At the trailhead, we stopped and had a snack and a drink, then hiked up the ridge. The trail was steep, but not as bad as some other trails we tackle (e.g. Godhilla -- see Hammocks Hike). The trail winds about the crest of the hill, going up and down as it moves from one end to the other. This was not too bad -- as soon as you got tired of going up, there was a (all too) brief respite of downhill hiking to get your legs back under you.

Thing 2 had announced that he was not going to complain on this hike, which was welcome news to his skeptical parents. But he came through on his promise and hiked the entire 5+ miles without a single whine. We were very pleased and enjoyed the hike much more for his enthusiasm. About half way along the ridge portion of the trail we could see the downhill portion of the hike, but couldn't tell exactly where it connected to our ridge trail. We were fooled at least three times -- thinking that the next peak was the final climb, when in fact there were additional summits to tackle. This wasn't a big deal for Hubby, me, or the non-whining Thing, but Thing 1 struggled with the disappointment. I don't think he was tired, so much as irritated. Reality was definitely not meeting his expectations.

Once at the top of the ridge, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Thompson's Reservoir, with Santa Barbara Island in the distance (about 40 miles away to the northwest). We entertained ourselves on the hike by watching bison on a nearby ridge, betting on the altitude of the next peak (I won! Hit it on the nose!), and talking about Christmas. The Things were very into Christmas, it being only five days away.

We hit the downhill part of the hike and were oh so glad that we had gone the other way -- this sucker was steep steep steep. It went straight downhill, complete with rocks and pebbles that would send you shooting down the hill on your patootie. Thing 2 adopted the strategy of running downhill, which Hubby and I did not deem wise, but he was most of the way downhill before he admitted that he heard us yelling at him to stop.

We all agreed that the hike was a good one -- and hopped in the car to go home. On the way, we encountered a group of about a dozen bison on the Middle Ranch Road. They were walking toward us and stopped when they saw us, annoyed no doubt. There was a bit of a face off, with us looking at them and them looking at us. Hubby would edge forward, and they would stare blankly. I imagine they were thinking, "Hey, get the hell out of the way."
I suggested that we back up, and when we did, the bison began trotting down the road toward us. Turns out they wanted to take a trail that was a bit behind where we had stopped. Soon all twelve bison were up the hill and off of the road and we were on our merry way home.